- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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OTTAWA -- Quick Hits from Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals:
• For a second time during these playoffs, the Ducks survived the loss of star defenseman Chris Pronger. They can do it because they don't seem to have any passengers on their bench. They are getting effort from every single player on their roster. The Senators simply cannot say that. In particular, Scott Niedermayer and Francois Beauchemin filled the void by playing more minutes.
At this point, with the Ducks holding a 3-1 series lead, Niedermayer deserves serious consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy. As usual, he plays a subtle and efficient game. His presence makes a huge difference for the Ducks. On most shifts, he does a nice job keeping his team out of trouble in the defensive zone and he has also netted some big goals during these playoffs. He has a pair of overtime game-winners. And, his last-minute tally in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals might have been the difference between the Ducks advancing the Cup finals and being eliminated in the third round.
• The other Niedermayer, Rob, has also been a force with his speed and big body. He made a terrific pass to center Andy McDonald for the Ducks' second goal. On Wednesday, one brother may get a chance to make a very significant pass to the other. If the Ducks win, Scott might just get a chance to hand Rob the Stanley Cup.
• In the second period, Ottawa coach Bryan Murray decided his struggling first line of center Jason Spezza, left winger Dany Heatley and right winger Daniel Alfredsson needed a change. He probably made that decision after seeing Alfredsson score the game's first goal while on a late first period shift with center Mike Fisher and winger Peter Schaefer. On the goal, Fisher made a nice play by knocking Beauchemin off the puck. Then, Fisher moved the puck behind the net to Schaefer, who slid a nice pass to Alfredsson.
The Senators captain finished the play by threading a wrist shot under the right arm of Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Murray kept that trio (Schaefer-Fisher-Alfredsson) together in the second period. The coach moved fourth-liner Patrick Eaves into Alfredsson's spot on the Jason Spezza-Dany Heatley line in the middle period. That move paid off when Eaves slipped a pass to Heatley, who beat Giguere to tie the game at 2 at the 18:00 mark of the stanza. In the third period, Murray reunited his top trio. That decision must have been a hunch play by Murray. It didn't work.
• The Senators got off to a fast start in Game 4. They drew two early power plays when Beauchemin (slashing) and right winger Corey Perry (cross-checking) were whistled for back-to-back penalties. The Sens built a 9-0 shot advantage in the first 11:27 before Perry recorded the Ducks' first shot on goal of the game. Ottawa outshot Anaheim, 13-2, in the first period. In the second, however, the Ducks turned the tables, finishing the middle period with a substantial 13-4 edge. Ottawa finished with more shots, 23-21.
• Referees Bill McCreary and Brad Watson (as well as linesmen Scott Driscoll and Jay Sharrers) called a strong game. It was a significant improvement from the earlier games in the series. Nice work, gentlemen.
• After Senators forward Dean McAmmond took part in the club's morning skate, there was some speculation he might be well enough to play in Game 4. That speculation reached Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle, who was asked if he would be surprised if McAmmond would suit up for the game. "Nothing would surprise me," Carlyle said. "People make huge strides in their recovery after suspensions. It's amazing." In this case, McAmmond's sudden recovery didn't last. He didn't dress for Game 4. He was replaced in the lineup by Patrick Eaves, who played in Game 1, but was a healthy scratch for Games 2 and 3.
• At the general mangers meetings, which were held at the nearby Brookstreet Hotel, new Phoenix Coyotes GM Don Maloney reports that not much has changed in the 12 years since he last participated in the executive get-together as the manager of the New York Islanders. "There was a three-hour debate about one subject [what to do about hits to the head] and [Ducks GM] Brian Burke had a lot to say," Maloney joked. The longtime Rangers assistant GM was officially named to the post on May 29.
• Sabres GM Darcy Regier said he's close to signing a new deal to stay in Buffalo. "We're working on it and it could be done soon," Regier said. The contracts of Regier and coach Lindy Ruff expire July 1. Regier expects Ruff will also re-sign with the Sabres. Meanwhile, in Columbus, former Rangers and Isles GM Neil Smith and Ducks' assistant GM Bob Murray are the finalists to fill the vacant Blue Jackets GM position. According to a report in The Columbus Dispatch, the club would like to complete the hiring process and make a formal announcement by the end of the week.
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